You’ve likely heard of probiotics, the “good” bacteria found in fermented foods like Greek yogurt and kombucha, that balance and boost your gut and skin health. But have you heard of—and possibly confused them—with prebiotics?
In 1995, the term “prebiotic” was redefined by experts as the food sources for probiotics, and eventually, the beauty industry caught wind of the emerging trend. Today, brands like Algenist, Elemis, and La Roche-Posay have jumped on the opportunity to develop entire lines featuring the It-ingredient, thus completing the transition from supermarket shelves to skin-care aisles.
The Food Connection
While probiotics are best defined as good bacteria, prebiotics are the group of indigestible carbohydrates found in a long list of foods, like artichokes, asparagus, bananas, chicory root, garlic, onions, seaweed, and whole grains. They’re chock-full of fiber and since they’re not absorbed straight into the body, they instead pass through the digestive system on their way to fueling the microorganisms (probiotics) in the gut.
How It Works
Like your gut, “your skin is covered in a diverse microbiome of organisms that keep your skin barrier healthy and intact. Prebiotics preferentially feed these existing healthy bacteria and prevent pathogenic organisms from colonizing,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Susan Bard of Manhattan Dermatology Specialists.
This may lead to less inflammation and bacterial issues, like acne, and could potentially help with conditions like eczema. Prebiotics are most effective when paired with probiotics, since they encourage the beneficial bacteria that are already inhabiting your skin’s ecosystem to flourish.
“Prebiotics work as a precursor to the probiotics and make the probiotics more stable. They work great in cleansers because the cleanser is how you’re prepping the skin; you’re removing the bad microorganisms and want to leave the skin with good microorganisms, making a great base for the rest of your skincare routine,” says celebrity aesthetician Joshua Ross of SkinLab.
How to Use
You can find prebiotics in a variety of topical products, including facial cleansers, washes, masks, mists, moisturizers, serums, body lotions, creams and deodorants. “Ideally you want to look for prebiotics such as oligosaccharides, galactooligosaccharides and fructooligosaccharides, which are sugars that feed the good bacteria. It’s best to pick skin care that contains natural and organic ingredients, and avoid potentially harmful additives such as parabens and pthlalates,” recommends board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn.
Should You Try It?
For the most part, prebiotic skincare is safe to use and suitable for nearly all skin types, but Dr. Bard warns, “There are lots of people selling snake oil these days. Do some research behind the products you’re purchasing and make sure to use a reputable product.”
Dr. Youn adds, “This technology is still really new, and there remains little hard science to prove its many perceived benefits. I would exercise caution in spending a lot of money for prebiotic skincare, when there are other, much more proven options for achieving healthy, youthful skin if you are on a strict budget. But as a splurge to see how your skin responds, prebiotic skin care is definitely worth looking into.”
Ahead are a handful of top-selling probiotic-rich products to start test-driving.
Aleavia Prebiotic Acne Repair Kit
This set includes the Aleavia Purifying Facial Cleanse and the Aleavia Clear Facial Mist, both of which are fragrance-free and formulated for acne-prone skin.
$39.99 at Aleavia
Algenist ALIVE Prebiotic Balancing Mask
Featuring a blend of prebiotics, some derived from algae, Algenist’s detoxifying mask also features a fun color-changing element. Once applied, the mint-green mask transforms into a pink shade.
$38 at Algenist
Elemis Superfood Facial Wash
Just like your favorite green smoothie, Elemis’s superfood facial wash is loaded with avocado (oil), broccoli (seed), and kale (extract) that’s mixed with prebiotics for glowing skin.
$25 at Elemis
Honestly pHresh Soothing Shea Prebiotic Deodorant
Instead of aluminum or baking soda, Honestly pHresh’s prebiotic line relies on essential oils and prebiotics to fight body odor. The shea version also features cocoa butter, coconut oil and vitamin E.
$9.99 at Honestly pHresh
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
Part of La Roche-Posay’s dedicated Toleraiane prebiotic line, the face moisturizer is oil-free and can hydrate skin while repairing the skin barrier.
$19.99 at La Roche-Posay
Marie Veronique Pre+Probiotic Daily Mist
Packed with a proprietary formula of prebiotics (like galactooligosaccharides) and probiotics. Marie Veronique’s mist is best absorbed after cleansing for calm and soft skin.
$40 at Marie Veronique
Murad Prebiotic 4-In-1 MultiCleanser
A gel-to-oil facial cleanser, Murad’s prebiotic option can cleanse, hydrate, nourish, and remove makeup all in one step.
$36 at Murad